Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Wake Up

Not too terribly long ago, I heard a parishioner explain to me that Hurricane Katrina was God’s judgment against the people of New Orleans for their sins. Apparently, there’s more than just a generational gap between this octogenarian and me. Our whole understanding of who God is seems radically different. But, in that same conversation, this man told me something that is true—even if he and I approach that truth in different ways.

The turmoil that the earth has experienced in recent years—earthquakes, famines, wars—are a sign that Jesus is returning. He said that (or something close to that), and since it came on the heels of the Katrina comment, I dismissed it as more Harold-Campingesque theology. But, reading today’s gospel lesson (Mark 13:28-37), I think he might have been right. Jesus says, “When you see these things taking place, you know that he is near, at the very gates.” Since then, we’ve been looking for signs that Jesus is coming. And plenty of people have gotten other stirred up over the expectation that a recent natural disaster or military skirmish is a sign that the end is finally near. But I don’t think that’s what Jesus meant.

We recognize his nearness through those signs of chaos, but that doesn’t mean that the end of the world is near—at least not in the temporal sense. Jesus is near. He’s at the very gates. And the turmoil we experience should be a reminder of that. But that doesn’t also mean that we should stock our spiritual shelves with canned goods. If Jesus is really that close, there’s work to be done in the midst of that chaos. Now, more than ever, people need to hear the good news that Jesus is Lord, and that he offers salvation to a broken world.

Keep alert. Stay awake. You don’t know when the master will come. But we do know that he’s very close. He’s always very close. And it’s interesting to me that the way we know he’s close is in the troubles we face. That might not make sense to someone who’s in great shape, but I think it makes sense to those of us who are struggling. We need God to be close to us in our troubles. We depend upon his nearness—the proximate promise of salvation—in those tough times. His command to keep alert, therefore, isn’t an instruction to get ready for the end of the world. It’s a reminder to watch for signs of our salvation in the midst of our chaos.

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